Lawrence: Handicapping NFL Championship Games
And then there were four.
NFL’s version of the ‘Final Four’ kicks off this Sunday in the Championship Games where surprises aplenty have certainly been the buzzword.
That’s confirmed by the fact that underdogs have managed to pull off upsets in 14 of 44 title games since the 1990 season, the most recent being the New York Giants win at San Francisco last season en route to capturing Super Bowl XLIV.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s worked and what hasn’t in the Championship Games, because when it comes to handicapping games at this stage of the season we can use every edge imaginable.
Note: all results are ATS (Against The Spread) and are since the 1990 season, unless noted otherwise.
While high-scoring games are the norm in the NFL these days, teams arriving to the Championship Round off a high-scoring effort in their last game tend to come back to earth harder than a skydiver with a faulty chute.
Consider: nearly half of the 17 teams in this round who put 38 or more points on the scoreboard in a Divisional Round victory fell short of the Super Bowl, going 9-8 straight-up.
Worse, these teams are just 9-8 SU and 4-13 ATS, including 1-12 ATS when facing a foe that tallied less than 34 points in its previous game.
With Baltimore and New England canceling one another out, that puts San Francisco on warning this Sunday.
The linemakers have done a nice job overall during this round, with favorites checking in at 23-21 ATS, and home teams 20-24 ATS.
Home chalk of 9 or more points has struggled, though, posting a dismal 2-8 ATS mark.
In addition, teams who played in a Wild Card game are 11-13 SU and 14-10 ATS in title tilts, including 5-0 ATS when facing opposition that scored more than 35 points in the division round.
That’s music to the ears of Baltimore backers.
Points aplenty in this league of late have forced the linesmakers to raise the over/under totals bar.
It's what happens when there have been 27 OVERS and 17 UNDERS in Championship Games.
Surprisingly, the higher the total the more OVERS there have been as games with a posted total set at 46 or more points going 9-3 OVER.
Been There Done That
Three of the four head coaches have had the luxury of coaching teams in Championship Games – namely Bill Belichick and the Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John.
Jim’s Ravens are 0-2 SU and 1-1 ATS, while John’s 49ers fell as 2-point home favorites last year.
New England’s Belichick brings a lofty 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS record with the Patriots in Championship Games. The Hoodie has been favored by 7 or more points in two of those contests, losing the money both times – including last year’s 23-20 win-no-cover over the Ravens.
Enjoy the games and good luck as always.